In Pursuit of: The Perfect Beer Batter

Serves: ~2
Cost: ~€1.50-2.50, depending on the ale used
Preparation time: ~5 minutes for the batter
Calories: n/a

Sometime ago, when my blog was in its infancy, I posted a rather ugly entry for fish and chips. Don’t get me wrong – the meal itself was tasty enough, but the photos were very “meh”. I decided to have another go, and tweak my batter because last time the batter was “good”… but it wasn’t “great”. Lacking in salt, with a bit of a hollow flavour and so forth. Well, as it turns out, battered fish and chips aren’t the easiest things to make look good in a photo. Perhaps it’s because I’m rushing a bit to dig in because of the irresistible aroma of deep-fried beer batter, and the knowledge that the delicious plate of hot, crisp onion rings in front of me sure as heck isn’t getting any hotter, and since I just spent the last hour frying food for five people I’m sure as hell not going to be eating it cold! Or perhaps those colours don’t lend themselves that well to photography. Or perhaps I’m rubbish. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all the above. In any case – the photo is at least better than the last time I made it, and so was the batter.

Beloved by millions, fish and chips is enjoyed all over Britain, and a late-night trip to the “chippy” (chip shop) is a common pastime for many people on their way back from the pub. There is a street in my parents’ home-town which is, with the exception of a needlework store, a photography store and a couple of other places, pretty much entirely composed of establishments catering to the late-night drunkard. Pizzerias, kebab shops and, of course, fish and chip shops.

I don’t often get the urge to eat fish and chips. It’s a veritable grease and stodge extravaganza, but the oil-infused siren’s call hits me about once a year and it’s hard to resist. If it’s done right, I’ll enjoy the meal enormously with no regrets, and then I’m good until the next year. Done badly (soggy chips, fish riddled with bones) and I’ll curse myself for wasting the time or money and swear off the stuff for life – that is until the next year when all of a sudden, the desire creeps up on me once again. The best, I mean the absolute best way of eating it is liberally sprinkled with plenty of salt and absolutely soaked with malt vinegar (so much vinegar that it combines with the grease to make the bag that it’s in soggy and translucent). At its very heart though, there are two very important components to a good fish and chips. Three, really, but I can’t “make” fish, so I’m just going to say: “Use good fish!”. Most commonly, cod is used, although since it’s a bit endangered, haddock is now frequently used, and even hoki. I discovered a fish called Atlantic Wolf-fish in my local store which is even more beautiful than cod. It yields fantastically plump fillets, though I later found out that it too is quite seriously endangered, so try and stick with fish in plentiful supply.

Fish, chips and onion rings

Anyway – the two important things: Good chips. Crisp, golden, chipped potatoes with a delicious, fluffy centre are very important. I’m terrible at making chips, as you can probably tell from the photos here, so I’m going to make another “In pursuit of” post soon where I will test a great number of chip making methods – all very scientifically of course – and post my results, as well as the “perfect method”. The other important thing is, of course, the batter. Beer is the in-thing these days, since some years now, for a good batter. It ensures a puffier, crisper shell which stays crispy even as the dish cools, however the type of beer used can vary wildly.

In my last batter I used a lager, but this time decided to go for something with a bit more punch. Something deeper and darker, with more character. I decided to up the salt content as well because I found it seriously lacking in the last one I made. If you’ve never tried fish and chips before, or if you’ve only had it in a restaurant, or even if you tried making it and found the batter a bit lacking then I implore you to give it another shot because I don’t think this will disappoint!

I hope you all had a good weekend – I’ll be back later in the week with a delicious cake (really – it’s awesome!), but until then – fare thee well!

Dark Ale Beer Batter

Ingredients

Beer Batter ingredients

  • 300ml Brown/Dark Ale
  • 250g Plain Flour
  • 3tsps Salt
  • 3tsps Baking Powder
  • 1 Egg

You’ll also need

  • Onions, fish, sausages etc. to batter
  • Oil (such as peanut) for deep-frying

Instructions

  1. Start off by mixing the flour, salt, and baking powder for the batter together in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg and then finally pour in the ale. Whisk well so there are no lumps remaining. The ingredients will make enough batter for fish and onion rings for roughly two people.
    Making the batter
  2. Heat your oil in a large, deep pan or wok to between 150 and 160 degrees Celsius. Dip your food into the batter and ensure it’s well coated. Lift it out and shake off the excess and then slide gently into the hot oil. Turn the food periodically and fry until a deep golden colour before removing with the aid of a slotted spoon and setting onto kitchen paper to drain while you fry the rest of the food.
    Deep-frying the onion rings
  3. Arrange all the food on a hot plate and serve with accompaniments of your choice – perhaps some tartar sauce? Enjoy!
    Fish, chips and onion rings

Comments

  1. says

    The only picture I wish you had included is a shot of the inside of that piece of fish. I love fish and chips though I get it rarely and only by going to a local Sir Cedric’s Fish and Chips restaurant for a couple of pieces of good halibut, the priciest of the 3 fish offered, with the other 2 being haddock and cod, and chips.

    Unfortunately their chips are a soggy offering. It’s sad to admit that the best fries are available at MacDonald’s though they’re kind of thin. However they’re perfectly crispy outside with a tender center.

    I wish I had some beer in the house cause I’d love to make some of the onion rings. I’m on a deep frying kick in any case. Maybe this coming weekend.

    • says

      Hi A_ – I should have opened the fish piece actually… it was very nice and flaky and would have provided a bit of colour contrast to the photo. McDonald’s fries are terrible over here usually. Limp and flavourless. Burger King generally do good fries, but we don’t have any in France. However, the McDonalds fry is the result of millions of dollars of research and development, so as long as it’s cooked right it’s not surprising that it’s good. I’m hoping to come up with something similar when I work on french fries in a later post :)

  2. says

    I think this is a meal very few could refuse. I’ve made beer battered fish and chips before and I’ve made potato scallops before but I’ve never done the onion rings. I must add these to my repertoire! xx

  3. says

    Surprisingly I too love fish and chips, but I’ve never attempted to make it. Your photos look great, they really look plump and crispy on the outside. I love a fish with body too. Recently we tried monkfish and it would be good in this application. I don’t deep fry all that often but if I did this would be what I would make. Soaked in malt vinegar is really the only way to eat fish and chips.

    • says

      Hi Eva – monkfish, hmm… is that the really ugly thing that looks a nightmare creature of the deep? I’ll have to look it up. I hope you decide to give this a try – it’s well worth it, the onion rings are especially good! You mention vinegar on fish and chips to people in France and they think you’re insane :D

  4. says

    Mmmm! I remember your first fish and chips. They enticed me then, now your tempting me further! The batter looks fabulous. I definitely have to try the malt vinegar thing too!

    • says

      Hi Kristy – did you ever get a chance to give it a try back then? If not then I really recommend this version, although if you decide to “visit” England in your food adventures you could make this then :D

    • says

      Hi Anneli – it turned out so crispy, even when cooler, which made me very happy. Chips aren’t my strong point… I’m going to work on those next time.

  5. says

    This is one of the foods I crave here. Fish and chips is available but not so widely.
    In Australia I saw many places selling beer battered fries. The fries didn’t look battered, maybe very lightly.

    • says

      Hi Three-Cookies – I’ve never heard of battered fries… are sure it wasn’t just the fish they were talking about? Talk about taking something which is already nice and greasy and making it even more unhealthy :D

  6. says

    I’ve only beer battered tiny bits of fish for tacos, so this is very helpful. I hadn’t thought, but you are so right, a darker beer would add a whole other level of flavor. You’re giving me the courage to try this. I refuse to indulge in a deep fat fryer.. or I would be in deep fat trouble, lol, but a deep wok I have on hand and this would be affordable.. and quick! Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Barb – haha – deep fat trouble! :D Love it! I think I’d be the same… frying in a wok or pan “just” annoying enough that you don’t want to do it regularly, but still easy enough that periodic dishes like this are no problem! :)

  7. says

    Did not know sausage was part of the fish and chip platter, learnt something new today. Brown food, I think, is very difficult to photo, but you did a great job.

    • says

      Hi Norma – I wouldn’t say it’s the traditional part, but as some people don’t like fish I guess chip shops wanted to find a way to cater to other tastes, and as a result the battered sausage was “born”. The most common sausage used is the Saveloy.

  8. says

    Oh Charles, I can’t resist a good fish & chips. When my husband and I go out to an English pub that is what we almost always order. And the malt vinegar? I use it all the time at home and on things you wouldn’t even imagine… It’s got an indescribable addictive yumminess to it that I just can’t get away from (it might be a bit of that English/Irish cross-over thing ;-)). Tartar sauce? Yes please; lip smacking goodness. What about mayo with the chips or is that more a French thing? Frequently served with frites when we were living in Montreal…

    I don’t know, I think you’re being hard on yourself with the photography. Not an easy subject to work with or embellish upon. I like your little serving pots with the colourful sauces… I think it comes together really well (just had a quick flip through foodgawker re: fish/chips and yours remains one of my favourites!).

    • says

      Thank you so much Kelly – I just had a look at Foodgawker’s fish and chip posts myself and have to say that I was surprised. There were actually very few “real” fish and chip dishes… big piece of fish, plate of chips etc. Everyone seems to want to fancy it up a bit, which is fair enough I suppose, but sometimes the original is best.

      I’ll have mayonnaise with anything I’m sorry to say, especially chips, although my countrymen often don’t share the same love of the mayo :D

    • says

      Hehe, thanks Marta – even though home-made is best, sometimes it’s nice to get it from a shop, if only so you don’t have to wash up for hours afterwards :D

  9. says

    Charles, your fish and chips look perfect! I’m sure after eating yours I would be disappointed with every single fish & chips shop in Britain. I tried only once making fish in the beer batter and it was a complete tragedy… so I know how difficult it is to make good fish fried this way, not to mention excellent, and I am in awe of your results!
    I am also very happy that you have reposted this recipe.
    By the way, loup d’Atlantique is good, but as you say perfect for frying in batter. It is much cheaper than “loup” (seabass) which is a very expensive fish and they often cheat in some restaurants here serving the first one and pricing it as THE loup. Such things probably don’t happen in France.
    Anyway, it’s funny that we both have deep-fried recently :-) Once more telepathy going on between food bloggers.

    • says

      Thank you Sissi – you’re too kind. I must say, with some good fish (wolffish is perfect, but I do feel even more bad about buying it then cod), malt vinegar, salt and the right batter now, I am very pleased with my fish. The chips – well, I still need to work on those and will make a post about experimenting on chips later. I really want to be able to make “perfect” chips. It shouldn’t be so hard, should it?!

  10. says

    Like you I get a craving for fish and chips about twice a year and one always hits me around the holidays for some reason. There is a pub down the street where I can get beer battered fish, and I love it. Yours looks just as good if not even better than what I buy! So crispy and nicely browned. Thanks for testing the beers for us. I’ve never used a beer batter myself, but you make it look easy and delicious!

    • says

      Hi MJ – I really recommend the beer in the batter… it give such a beautiful, rounded flavour. It’s probably a good thing that there’s no pub such as that near me as I’d probably be down there every week, urge or no :D

  11. says

    I’d be rushing to dig into that plate of golden crispy fish and chips too Charles. However hastily the photos were taken, they turned out well in the end! (My husband is always making jokes to friends about how long they have to wait to eat in my house…oh, the trials of living with a blogger). Did you notice quite a difference with the dark ale?

    • says

      Hi Barb – I’ve found a good way to make fellow diners happy… give them their food, and THEN mess about taking photos. People don’t care so much if you’re not at the table, as long as they’ve got a plate of grub in front of them, haha :D

      The difference between the lager and the ale batter was huge – I definitely recommend the ale one because the flavour is so rich!

  12. says

    Mmm, I can smell them through the computer monitor! LOL
    I’m going to attempt to make this recipe during lent for my hubby! How about a lighter version? How would a baked version hold up?

    • says

      Hi Lisa, good luck making this – if it turned out like mine then you won’t be disappointed :D. Regarding your question of a baked version… I don’t think it would end well to be honest. You need the heat and oil to cook and set the batter, as well as to get the crisp shell. You could definitely try… maybe put a bit of oil in a pan in a *very* hot oven, when the oil is really hot then put the battered fish inside, turn it in the oil and then bake until rich golden brown on both sides, turning occasionally. I can’t say for sure if it will work – but that’s how I’d try it if I was going to use the oven. You might be better off shallow-frying them, or brush the fish with egg and roll in breadcrumbs before baking or shallow frying. (PS: Happy Thanksgiving).

  13. says

    I love it when you, or other bloggers, do these “perfect” or “best” recipes. Saves me all the research heh! Love beer battered fish and chips, oh-so-british, but I’ve been trying to avoid the greasy takeaways, maybe time for me to do my own? x

    • says

      Hi Maureen – does that mean you don’t batter the onion rings, just roll them in panko (and presumably egg or something to make them stick?). Intriguing… I’ve never had onion rings made this way, but hell – it’s onion… it’s gonna be delicious whichever way it’s done! :D

    • says

      Hi Nami – I really hope you get to give this a go one day. I LOVE tempura, but it’s so light and crisp that I always think of it as a way of changing the dish’s texture, instead of being an actual part of the meal. A good beer batter is a very important part of the meal and I even think of it as “part” of the meal itself, instead of just “some delicious, crispy stuff on top”.

  14. says

    I always wanted to know what Ale is like. It seems its stronger then beer, the flavors not the alcohol.You won’t believe it charles but I have never made a beer batter. I wanted to so many times but there was never beer around at that time. now at least the bar is open in the season so I can get some to try out your recipe.

    • says

      Hi Helene – absolutely… the flavours in ale are much more complex than lager and light beers. They often use spices, or a different blend of hobs to create very rich, diverse flavours, whereas lagers, like Heineken, Stella Artois, Kronenbourg etc are very similar, at least in my opinion.

  15. says

    I knew you would have the perfect recipe for fish and chips and too bad I did not see this until today as I made a go of this yesterday and it did not turn out as well as yours. I think it might be your dark ale. Great idea. Take care, BAM

    • says

      Hi Bam – that’s so cool you tried this, even if it wasn’t using this recipe. Did you do the whole thing… fish, chips? Or just fish? The dark ale really adds a rich flavour to it – I recommend it a lot!

      • says

        My boys love fish and chips and so I made both. However, maybe it was your dark ale that was the secret. I have your page marked so that I can follow your recipe next time. Thanks Charles and have a super weekend.

  16. says

    “Aah, I’d never have guessed. How do you eat the pancakes? With sweet stuff, or savoury?”

    Savoury definitely as i usually use buckwheat flour!
    But if made with wheat flour I just eat them as they are preferably in Crepe Suzette form!

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